her trail of incense

August 10, 2010

She was unexpected.

On a day that I had already scheduled full of listening to people give reasons why they have no homes and thinking about ways to peacefully and forcefully engage in a battle against those reasons, she showed up with an unscheduled reason and a sense of urgency in her deeply accented voice. Her homelessness was a reason she didn’t understand.

What I did was listen. She wasn’t my client and I had no obligation to help her, and, in fact, I didn’t have the physical capacity to help her within the confines of my program. But I listened.

Heartaching at the inability to offer her my own resources. Because something warns me if I let her sleep in my house she might take my things. Something worries me that if I give her my food I could run out. Something suggests that I worked for these things and so they are mine to be shared within a safe circle of people I already know who largely already have things of their own. So much for directions to give to those in need. These words must be code for  “learn the appropriate agency to call and have the initiative to put in a referral.”

But even through her body-weighing frustration, I could catch a twinkle in her eye when she said she had slept outside under a full moon. I could bear with her frustrated, yet still dazzled, view of life.

She left in a much-calmed state from the frenzy surrounding her appearance. Listening and redirecting were the only things I felt able to do. They changed her demeanor if nothing else. As she left, she pulled a single stick of incense from her bag and handed it to me. “I hope you enjoy the scent.”

Later in the week, one of my plants grew too long to stand on its own. So I stuck her incense in the dirt and tied my leaves to the support, letting the scent of how we need each other drift across me, the neighborhood, the city. And the wondering of how far the smoke will float.